In this post, and the next, I will highlight some important ideas from The Behaviourally Informed Organization. (It is Canadian — this is not just me reverting to UK spelling). The first point I want to touch upon are the barriers that hinder people from taking the actions you want them to take. Such barriers are termed sludge. It is the sort of thing that stops people from claiming government benefits that they are are entitled to. Sludge stops potential customers taking advantage of the great new offer you made them. The same thing, sludge, also stops employees from following up on many important initiatives. How then do you reduce sludge in your organization?
What Is Sludge?
Daniel Cowan, Niketana Kannan, and Dilip Soman in Chapter 5 of The Behaviourally Informed Organization put sludge in context. If a nudge is a gate that opens to encourage you to take a positive action then sludge is a fence. It is there and it gets in the way. It is possible to get over the fence when you are committed. Still, the fence is just enough to slow things down and make sure many don’t get past it.
A nudge is a contextual intervention that opens metaphorical gates and make things easier; sludge adds fences and makes things harder.Cowan, Kannan And Soman, page 74, in Soman and Yeung (2021)
In some ways there is a linkage between seeing sludge and work on customer experience. Both focus on understanding the issues that the end-user faces. Indeed, the first step of sludge removal, according to the authors, is to start with the end-user journey.
It is important to understand the ‘customer’ you are serving. The researcher might well be the sort of person who memorizes everything they need for an application form, e.g., their social security number. Nearly everyone else who will fill in the form might, however, not be that sort of person. One lesson is that you shouldn’t ask for things that you don’t need. If someone has to leave the form to find a piece of information they may never return to complete the form.
The authors also note that technology is a new breeding ground for sludge. We all know the frustrations of online forms. Imagine how much worse these are for people who aren’t as comfortable with technology as the average reader of this blog.
How To Reduce Sludge In Your Organization
The authors recommend a sludge audit. They give a helpful checklist you can follow to try and limit the sludge you have. The overarching point is to design for human compliance. If you want people to do something you should make it easy for them to do it. The harder you make it then the less chance of it happening.
For more on public policy and behavioral thinking see here.
Read: Daniel Cowan, Niketana Kannan and Dilip Soman, Seeing Sludge, Chapter 5 in Dilip Soman and Catherine Yeung (Editors) (2021) The Behaviourally Informed Organization, Rotman, University Of Toronto Press.